Trying to design your home in the most sustainable way possible seems like no-brainer. But actually pulling it off isn't always easy...
Some sites and buildings lend themselves more easily to a highly-sustainable design than others, but you should always try to make as many green choices as possible.
Even if you can't be fully Net Zero, you can try to work within the guidelines and principles of the system in any way possible and incorporate these concepts into your reno or new build plans!
Here are the top 4 characteristics you need to incorporate when you want to work towards a Net Zero-ish design:
1. PASSIVE SOLAR DESIGN
The orientation and form of the building has a major impact on the energy efficiency of the design. In order to keep heating and cooling costs down, you'll want to optimize the window size and location in order to make use of solar heat gain in the winter. This is especially relevant in colder climates (like ours!). Meanwhile, shading should be implemented in some form to reduce heat gain in the summer to minimize the cooling load.
2. EFFECTIVE BUILDING ENVELOPES
Having solid, well-insulated floor, wall and roof systems is VERY important for cutting energy use. ICF can provide a higher level of insulation than traditional wall construction methods. However, other construction techniques like advanced framing and double exterior walls can also provide vastly improved thermal resistance. Along with the upgraded wall construction, you'll also need high-efficiency windows and doors, as well as careful and thorough envelope sealing at all joints and breaks in construction.
3. APPLIANCES & TECHNOLOGY
This one's easy and straightforward.. go with Energy Star appliances. They are widely available, competitively priced, and use far less energy than their counterparts.
Lighting can also be an energy-sucker. Part of passive solar design is also about incorporating natural light whenever possible to reduce the need for electrical lighting. But of course, you still need lights at night, on cloudy days, and for detailed task work. So opt for LEDs whenever you require electrical lighting.
Technology can be used to make a home smarter and more efficient in many ways. Occupancy sensors can help to control lighting and HVAC in order to reduce energy consumption when spaces are unoccupied. Automatic and electric window shading can also help with the proper performance of passive solar design. And of course... installing a charger for electric vehicles can be a great addition to a smart home for forward-thinking design.
4. RENEWABLE ENERGY
The first 3 principles deal with reducing energy demand of the home, while this is the best course of action for having a more sustainable design, there will always been energy use to some extent. For Net Zero design, all of the energy required by the building must be produced through renewable means. Ideally this energy is produced on-site. A combination of systems can be used to achieve this including solar, wind, and geothermal energy systems.
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